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Black law firms form association

by Shasimana Uugulu and Tirivangani Masawi

Several high profile legal practitioners consisting of formerly disadvantaged black professionals aiming to emancipate themselves have formed a Namibia Lawyers Association (NLA).
Advocate Dirk Conradie is the founding president of the association whose executive consists of Frans Kwala, Bradley Basson, Mel Harmse and Jorge Neves.

 “Primarily, the NLA is established to bring about and ensure transformation in the hitherto status quo ante (colonialism) position in the legal fraternity recognition for black lawyers. The NLA is of the view that the Law Society of Namibia and its current leadership do not have the credentials to bring about real transformation,” said Conradie.
According to Conradie, the intention of the NLA is to bring transformation in the legislation to establish an institution that represents “only those legal practitioners who practise with fidelity fund certificates, ensure that the 50% statutory black representation on the Law Society of Namibia is composed of NLA nominated members and to bring transparency and    transformation in the appointment of the Director of the Law Society of Namibia”.

“The association was established to act as a pressure group to advance the interest of black law firms, and not black lawyers in general. The reason is simple, black law firms face different problems as compared to their white counterparts. We all know that the economy is in the hands of the historically advantaged communities and the economy supports service providers for example, town planners, accountants, engineers, lawyers, and architects. It is therefore the primary objective to place black law firms in a situation where they can enjoy the same access to the economic cake in Namibia,” said Conradie.

Conradie added that, “For years black lawyers have been denied access to the main stream economic activities and this can be observed from the appointment of lawyers on boards of State Owned Enterprises, private companies.
“There is now a notion of ‘panel of lawyers’ which had never been there in the time when the legal profession was the domain for whites but now that blacks have entered the corporate world, they are placed on a panel where there is no transparency with regard to who gets what.”

He rubbishes that the association is racially discriminatory, arguing that it is only meant to create a platform for interaction for largely previously disadvantaged lawyers who happen to be of a certain race - black.
“The terms white and black are not discriminatory but they refer to white people and black people. No one can deny that we are a society of white and black. This terminology is not used by the NLA to discriminate. We are lawyers and we know discrimination is outlawed. We as blacks have a different background. We all come from the location where many of our families are still living under bad conditions. All of us suffered discrimination from earlier practices, it is a fact. So the way that one uses the terms white and black says it all,” said Conradie.

Meanwhile, the Director of Law Society of Namibia, Retha Steinmann has welcomed the association and sought to rubbish any speculation of a looming legal showdown.
“The Law Society never had nor will it now have any objection to the establishment of a voluntary association representing certain members of the profession.  In fact we have already co-operated with them Namibia Law Association.
“The objectives of the NLA, as known to the Law Society are certainly objectives that we strive for too.  It would, therefore, not necessarily result in any divide in the profession nor would it mean that it results in the one voice of the profession being stifled.  
“We must also point out that the situation, especially regarding the governing body of the Law Society, the Board of Legal Education etc. has changed and has become more representative of Namibian society.  The composition of the profession has also become more representative of the Namibian society and we always endeavour to support our members in every respect and will do so in this instance too,” said Steinmann.

She added, “The idea of a black law organisation is not new and a group of concerned lawyers, the majority from previously disadvantaged communities of Namibia resolved to take steps to organise themselves into a non-profit organisation which would campaign to sensitise the Government, professional legal bodies and the public about their concerns is therefore welcome.”